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THOMAS, Ambroise (1811-1896)

Born in Metz to a family of musicians, Ambroise Thomas began his musical career under his parents’ guidance. The sudden death of his father in 1823, however, cast a shadow over this promising debut. He enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire in 1828 and studied under Zimmerman (piano), Dourlen (harmony) and Lesueur (composition), before winning first prize in the Prix de Rome in 1832. Although he composed several works of chamber music during his stay at the Villa Medici, he set his sights on the stage from 1837. After a well-received first attempt (La Double Échelle), his rise to fame was rapid and he won renown for Le CaïdLe Songe d’une nuit d’étéRaymond and Le Roman d’Elvire. However, it was with Mignon (1866) and Hamlet (1868) that his reputation really soared, although this successful period marked a decline in his creative activity owing to his administrative duties, particularly at the Conservatoire, where he became professor of composition (1856) then director (1871). Despite their undeniable qualities, his last works, such as Françoise de Rimini (1882) and the ballet La Tempête (1889), did not repeat his past triumphs. An academic composer par excellence, elected to the Institut de France in 1851, Thomas combined his successful institutional career with his activities as a hugely talented melodist and orchestrator. Anxious to please, while protecting the French heritage from Germanic influence, he was emulated by many of his pupils, including Massenet and Dubois.